Adam Bennett

Adam is a political reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Ombudsman investigating complaint against MFAT leak

Paula Rebstock. Photo / Getty Images
Paula Rebstock. Photo / Getty Images

The Office of the Ombudsman has confirmed it is investigating a complaint against the State Services Commission over its 2012-13 inquiry into leaks from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade about restructuring plans.

The commission's inquiry, conducted by Paula Rebstock was criticised by former senior MFAT staffers for straying from its initial terms of reference and accusing them of improperly opposing the restructuring by consulting with senior officials outside the department.

Former High Commissioner to London Derek Leask who lodged the complaint welcomed the Ombudsman's decision this morning.

In a statement, Mr Leask said he had been advised by Ombudsman Ron Paterson that the office intended to investigate:

• Whether the investigation was conducted in a reasonable and fair manner in relation to the Complainant;

• Whether the findings of the Investigator in relation to the Complainant were wrong and/or unreasonable;

• Whether the decisions of State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie to accept Ms Rebstock's final report and publish it, including in effect identifying Mr Leask, were unreasonable, unjust and/or oppressive.

Public Service Association National Secretary Brenda Pilott, said the public sector union looked forward to contributing its views to the Ombudsman's inquiry.

"Paula Rebstock's investigation for the SSC was an unnecessary waste of public money and achieved nothing.

"Rebstock's investigation had an inappropriately broad focus on staff conduct during a change management process. Serious accusations were made against senior public servants in the report published by the SSC, with no factual findings to support them.

"The PSA's biggest concern is the message that the Rebstock report sends to public servants about their rights to have a say on their work environment."

Labour's State Services spokeswoman Maryan Street said the Ombudsman's investigation would force Mr Rennie and Ms Rebstock "to account for their actions and explain their conduct during the much criticised enquiry".

"The report was conducted in an offensive manner, contained factual errors, found the leak had come from the State Services Commissioner's own office and was released after Parliament had risen for the Christmas break in an attempt to bury its findings.

"In the process, the reputations of two men who had served New Zealand consistently well through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for many years, were besmirched. There were serious consequences for one of them who is continuing his career in another part of the public service."

A deputy secretary at the Ministry of Justice, Nigel Fyfe, late last year outed himself as the other former top MFAT manager fingered by the 18-month, $510,000 investigation as attempting to disrupt restructuring at the ministry.

The report found a former Labour Party staffer working at the State Services Commission and some MFAT staff were probably responsible for the leaks although it found no definitive evidence.

It also found the behaviour of some managers at MFAT during the restructuring "fell below the standards expected of people in their position".

The report found two staff who were not named "developed strategies to oppose the change proposals and to disrupt or stop the change process outside of the staff-in-confidence consultation process".

- NZ Herald

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